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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Huang Ruo, A Dust in Time (Passacaglia for Strings), Del Sol Quartet

 

In this sometimes grifting, drifting, blistering world we are in today, there perhaps is nothing quite so honest and direct than an album of New Music presented with care, with nothing but the music in general and, one ever hopes, something we will respond to, will like, something to want to hear again and again. New Music is a true element of our freedom from undue coercion, a thing to consider with never a hard sell.. In a world where people compose freely, listen freely, and ideally all are rewarded in kind, not in riches so much as to find a place in what the present-day may be self-remembered for, one hopes.

That hits me as I listen to the Del Sol Quartet performing A Dust in Time (Passacaglia for Strings)  by Huang Ruo (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0158). This is a full-length work divided into 13 sections, each of which flows to the next with a supercharged lyrical set of quietly reminiscent and sad but transcendent slow suspensions and unfoldings .Altogether the work makes for a beautiful, never ending mood that avoids the sort of rote repetition of orthodox Minimalism, but lingers on something that builds on a crawlingly slow ostinato, puts us onto very widely spanning  in ways perhaps more vaguely familiar more as chant structured than overtly hypnotic recalls. In time the music moves in melodic motion beyond the already stated and follows a wide arc in a kind of hour-long quasi a-b-a axis..

In this way Ruo creates a never-ending largo that the composer builds forward with, never exactly moving ahead in time nor exactly static. And as we listen we feel the opening up of a musical space.

Ruo explains what led to this haunting work: "Most of us have experienced moments during this global crisis where time and space seemed to be slowed or frozen. This special piece is created for the people affected by the pandemic, giving them a piece of music to reflect, to express, to mourn, to bury, to heal, to find internal peace, strength and hope," The hour long work Ruo suggests might be expereinces as a Tibetan Sand Mandala, created slowly from a center, expanding outward to a "colored fullness, and then to be subtracted from it inwards back to the central essence point"  in a life cycle-like movement from nothing to a fullness and then back to an emptiness. The journey from a kind of dust to a life affirming expression and then back to the nothingness again has the aim of creating an "internal peace laying in the heart."

All that makes sense as the Del Sol Quartet give us this contemporary passacaglia of labyrinthian growth and returning stasis. The CD comes with a cosmic coloring book meant to help the listener obtain a sort of aural and visual completeness. As the unfolding process takes place.

As the liners tell us, Ruo draws upon a wide variety of influences, from Chinese ancient folk music to avant experimental noise, processual sound, rock and various classical genre traditions, then too installation art, all meant to combine into a cross-referenced and special whole.

As one listens one gradually realizes that everything Ruo intended comes off well, thanks to his an overarching conceptual constancy and the well healed reading by the Del Sol Quartet.

It no doubt must find each listener in a receptive earnestness of openness for it to have its way. It is a most welcome peace one can gain by intended focus. It refuses to copy so much as it re-creates the aural world need to transcend the pandemic. And it does.`

This is as insistent to be itself as anything around these days. And you end up appreciating it a lot of you are like me. Bravo Del Sol. Bravo Huang Ruo!





Thursday, October 21, 2021

Tod Machover, Death and the Powers, Soloists and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

 

No doubt many readers will be familiar with the pathbreaking Electronic Music compositions of Tod Machover. Perhaps you might be less familiar with his music that combines live instruments and voices with electronics. Regardless there is reason to take notice in the face of the recorded world premier of Machover's legendary one-act opera Death and the Powers (BMOP Sound 1082), featuring a talented cast of vocalists (including baritone James Maddalena) along with electronics realized in the MIT Media Lab, plus the always focused Boston Modern Orchestra Project, all under conductor and music director Gil Rose.

The poetic and dramatic libretto is the handiwork of US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. I will not attempt to summarize it, as the libretto is included in the CD package. Suffice to say that its quasi-bildungsroman apocalyptic robot cosmos is richly detailed and gives Machover an evocative potential that helps him create a highly dramatic expressionism, a beautiful transcendence of outstanding musicality.

The entire one act opera fills our ears remarkably at some 80-some-odd minutes. It is through composed in a highly Modern chromatic and/or newly  inventive tonal manner, with some beautiful electronics mixing wonderfully well with the fully fleshed out vocal parts and the colorful and powerful expression of the orchestration. Everything comes to us with a highly effective deliberate phrasing that works  with true elegance and impresses dramatically. The more you listen to this one, the more you hear--and that in the best sense since the intricate expression comes alive with repeated earfuls. All components stand out in themselves and as part of the totality.

I very strongly recommend this album. It shows just how complete a conceptualist is Machover, how finely developed his orchestrational sensitivities are. Kudos! Bravo! A wonderful work and the performance is equally definitive. Do listen to this one, get it!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Julia Den Boer, Kermes, New Music for Solo Piano by Four Woman Composers Who Deserve to Be Better Known

 

The ever opening panorama of New Music shows no sign of fading away. And there are some strides being made out there for novel and encouraging works appearing before us in a pretty steady stream of new releases. One to take seriously and listen to with absorption is pianist  Julia Den Boer's Kermes (New Focus Recordings FCR311). It introduces to us four women composers and four new works deserving our attention--"Deserts" by Giulia Lorusso, "The Underfolding" by Linda Catlin Smith, "Reminiscence" by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and "Crimson" by Rebecca Saunders.

These are composers not yet household names. I've covered quite a few by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and a piece here and there by Linda Catlin Smith and Rebecca Saunders (type their names in the search box above for reviews).

The music has an adventuresome streak, It avoids the atonal bleep-bloop pointillism of High Modernism, though its harmonic-melodic sense embraces everything from ritualistic radical tonality to an edgy expansionist ambiguity. In a way it is beyond Modernism per se but also does not fall directly into the post-Modern Minimalist possibility. It does not ignore all of that which went before but nonetheless carves out a series of personal niches that are eminently pianistic and nicely suited to Julia Den Boer's virtuosity in latent potency and her genuine dedication to the piano as a kind of art form necessary and sufficient unto itself.

"The Underfolding" has a hypnotic continually recurring chord cluster that plays off a Satian-Cagean-Feldmanesque melody line that evokes without imitating, that converges in its paradoxically moving stasis. It is a wonderfully suspended temporary anomaly so to speak Ms. Den Boer handles beautifully the dream-like suspension that underpins the stricture of the work. It is an enchanted world we find our way into and it ravishes.

"Reminiscence" has a matching cosmic outlook of suspensions and repetitions interspersed with unique note responses that vary and open up the aural field.

"Crimson" sets up a more jagged sounding of clusters that interrelate at the same time as they unfold in ways that surprise and stray far beyond simple repetition.

Last but not least there is the opening Guilia Lorusso "Deserts" which adopts the pointillistic High Modernist rangy leaps and silence, and then makes something more hypnotic out of it. From, there the work rolls into a continual two-handed rhythmic density that has just the continuity needed thanks to Julia Den Boer's acrobatic virtuosity. This is a work to savor!

But then it all has plenty of substance to sink oneself into. Julia Den Boer triumphs and each work stands out as a worthy new gesture in high art. Do not miss this! New piano music thrives here! Listen!


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Voces 8, Infinity

 

Each day we go forward and with any luck learn good things. Musically that is ever the case in my life. Today we have something not entirely expected, but then once the music plays a number of times it starts to sound like some part of home, the home of the contemporary world, the Modern as it twists and turns in ways we never thought around, say, 1974.

It is voces8 and their enchanting voices giving us a 15-work program entitled Infinity (Decca 4851626). Their website tells us that the album "embraces renowned composers alternative, film and contemporary classical music" for voices, and at times accompanying instrumental parts. Eight works were specially commissioned for the album, while the remaining are "choral versions of calming instrumental pieces."  Now that "calming" aspect might be telegraphic for some kind of "New Age" mélange, but serious listening to this program affirms that the musical content is by no means facile and purely functional.. Plenty of effort and musical inspiration has gone into this music as a whole.

In other words the program plants its stylistic flag squarely into a kind of Postmodern ambiance, a rather meditative spatial emission. Now I like most everybody these days recognizes a planetary malaise that can heighten all kinds of anxious thoughts, fears, worries, and if some music promises to counter that, are we to reject such a thing in the interest of High Modernist insistence? Probably not. It is our call. And I do not mind the idea of something sprawling spatio-temporally outward to a calm place.

An old friend years ago announced to me that he had basically had it with the Avant Garde in music because he already felt a kind of misery of life and, he went on. "Who needs to hear that all over again in the music?" What I said then in response is not relevant to today, really. Of course with the advent of the Postmodern per se, Brian Eno's ambiance, even some of the later works of Cage, well one might find plenty of music made since 1975 give or take, music that pulls the shade down on dissonance and fire in favor of something potentially soporific but then has the challenge of being contentful, structurally sound, syntactically perhaps looking far back into the Early Music worlds as it also carves out a vision of the futuristic present.

What could be wrong with that in those simple terms? And do we need to assert then, like my friend unfortunately did, that we should abandon music that challenges our sense of confluence and rips asumder the staid musical worlds it had tried to replace on some level? Certainly not. I've said this before but think about it differently--if we get away from musical considerations for a minute, we would be perhaps too extreme if we, for example  decided that all movies from this point forward were to avoid tension, dramatic horror, contrary plot suspense? Probably a bad idea.

So my response to the music on this program is not supposed to be an advocation that this music replaces other styles. Iti s rather than it can stand along other altogether different things and not be the everything in music that we perhaps increasingly find an outmoded idea? 

If along the way this album might prove popular to listeners who would perhaps avoid the Modern music worlds of the higher octane dissonant  realms like they might avoid watching "Psycho?" Well probably but that does not force us to follow in those footsteps.ourselves. I  might venture to say that even Elevator Music of the '50s at its best might be heard with some pleasure, without assuming the genre has some right of hegemony over our musical tastes.

So the music comes to us not as some obligation, but more as a gift, free to receive and enjoy. So we hear some 15 miniatures by people you may or may not know of, Sophie Hutchings, Slow Meadow, Jon Hopkins, Porkell Sigurbjornsson, Johann  Johannsson,  Kelly Lee Owens &Sebastian Plano, Olafur Arnalds, Anne Lovett, Benjamin Rimmer, Ola Gjeilo, Stephen Barton, Nainita Desai, Hildur Gudnadottir, A Winged Victory for the Sullen and finally Luke Howard. All in common is the kind of placid Ritual Tonality and sometimes a tinge of early music spatiality, some reaching out after a few listens and staying with you, others take a bit more focus but altogether we get a distinct mode locality, a planar expanding outwards for a beautifully lucid chamber vocal group of extraordinarily consistent lyricality.

After a good number of listens the music retains its consonance but began to stand out as content worthy, a goodly ways beyond what New Age requires of its composers. If this was the music we were somehow required to like to the exclusion of all else, I would probably balk. Given our ear freedom that is not the case, and so this becomes a pleasant change of mood and a substantial batch of chamber choral music that should appeal to a good number of folks out there. I recommend this one without hesitation. Voces8 is a beautiful ensemble and the music has a lurking sweetness that does not cloy.

The Vivaldi Project, Discovering the Classical String Trio, Volume Three, Antes, Hoffmeister, Hofmann, etc.

 

Years ago I came upon an LP of Classical Period String Quartets by composers not all that familiar to me (or as it turned out, the world). It was a rather marvelous collection of finely crafted chamber gems played with a lot of brio and energy. It was fun. Now these many years later I received a new CD by the Vivaldi Project entitled Discovering The Classical String Trio, Volume Three (MSR Classics MS1623). I've been listening and, quite happily, it is the String Trio equivalent of that old LP. The music again is finely crafted and there is plenty of gusto and brio on the performances by the Vivaldi Project.

The performers give us an insight into their reasoning for this comprehensive multi-volume collection of trios. Most thinking, they note on the dust jacket, about the Classical Era assumes the String Quartet as primary and the String Trio as a kind of minor afterthought, as a sort of quartet minus one. The Vivaldi Project counter with the idea that given the popularity of the Trio Sonata in the Baroque period, one might instead understand the String Trio to be the more readily institutionalized form, the logical culmination from Baroque to Classical, with the quartet beginning in this period as a sort of trio plus one. With the carefully enthusiastic readings of the seven trios here they make a case for the primacy of the trios as flourishing nicely at that point.

So the program explores multi-movement trio works by Giovanni Battista Sammartini, , Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen, John Antes, Francesco Zannetti, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, Leopold Hofmann. and Paul Wranitzky. I must say I am not very familiar with any of these composers but the music is worthwhile. Volumes 1 and 2 have some of the more obviously familiar names. I reviewed Volume 1 some time ago--see the posting of August 31, 2016 for the first volume review. Volume 3 is all the more a discovery given the relative obscurity of the names. Either way you get beautiful performances and the works are very enjoyable.

All told this is a fine volume that anyone who loves Classical form and engaged performances will gravitate towards. High recommendations.



Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Christina Petrowska Quilico, Retro Americana, Piano Music by Cowell, Rzewski, Gershwin, Westcott, Meredith Monk, Tatum


Christina Petrouska Quilico is a pianist I admire and appreciate. She did an album of French visionaries that I like a good deal and reviewed last August. Type her name in the search box above for my reviews of the very nicely done performances of the late Ann Southam's compelling music as well as some other fine Quilico things I have been happy to hear and write about.

And now today another of note, a collection aptly titled Retro Americana (Navona NV6361). What is the first thing that strikes me? The broad breadth of composers and works covered. Some George Gershwin, that is expected, but then Henry Cowell, Frederic Rzewski, Bill Westcoff, Meredith Monk and a couple of transcriptions of a few choice Art Tatum improvisations.

What it gives you as you listen is the idea that, as you might expect, Gershwin and Tatum cover the artistic transformation of the earlier vernacular--Jazz and Popular music of the earlier time. Tatum of course excelled at taking standards and making them his own pianistically. On the other hand Gershwin does something different but equally pianistic to his own staple song classics, but either way they address a content that typifies the more cosmopolitan aspects of Americana proper. Westcott does something transformative to earthy jazz-rag piano roots, nicely so. The "Suite" has some beautifully wrought, harmonically rich jazz inflected music that makes me want to hear more.

Meredith Monk's four pieces are folkishly somewhat ritualistic and perhaps a commentary on the Jazzier sides of Americana roots. It involves a pronounced movement, a dynamic of forward motion that suggests the hard swinging of early Jazz without stating it directly.

The "Six Ings" of Henry Cowell makes his pioneering early Modernism palpable and retro in its very own futuristic way.. Ms. Quilico shows us how splayed in wonderful spaciousness an excellent reading of such Cowell classics can be. The music reminds us how the Early Modern period in North America was a special, bold time for expressive pianism--we have the Cowell works which we get a worthy sampling of here. Of course there is much else we might hear as well,  the Ives beauties among others. Cowell's "Six Ings" nevertheless sound wonderful in these brilliant readings. No doubt we would get something very interesting if Ms.Quilico did an Ives album! I certainly would want to hear that. But this anthology has plenty going for it so we listen with pleasure, or I do anyway.

After the sad loss of Frederic Rzewski it is fitting we hear his "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues," which has the insistent rhythmically of machine production and simultaneously reminds us of the lively juke blues rhythmicality of the early 20th century and beyond, from Boogie to Jump. Christina sounds perfect in her deft realization of ostinato and overlying melodic expressivity.

The performances throughout are uniformly moving, well informed and practiced in making come alive the style requisites that are critical to get this music truly to sing. It is a rather perfect joining of artist and compositional style. I suspect you will find this one a real winner, even if you do not know all or even perhaps any of the music. Kudos, bravos! Listen to this one by all means!






Jan Jarvlepp, High Voltage, Chamber Music

 

There is no one way to compose these days, it goes without saying. That is a healthy thing to my mind. So as I listen to the chamber music offering by Jan Jarvlepp entitled High Voltage (Navona NV 6366), I am happily reminded that one can encounter the unexpected even among the expected "deviations" from orthodoxy.

The program covers four Jarvlepp chamber works, namely the Quintet 2003, a Woodwind Quintet, a Bassoon Quartet and his String Quartet No. 1. What stands out in this music as it first strikes me is the musical-stylistic syntax. It steadfastly goes beyond either the Romantic or the High Modern possibilities to explore possibilities inspired by Folk and general vernacular influences. Listen to the "Fancy Fiddling" movements of the Quintet 2003, and  too the alternately rollicking versus the more contemplative sections of the Woodwind Quintet with diatonic and quasi-pentatonic earthy rocking Folksy countenances. As can be the case throughout, the middle movement "Solitude" may bring to mind a bit of Bartok and Janacek, only distinctively Jarvleppian, which grounds itself on the combined Finnish-Estonian parental roots with a Canadian life locality. The musical result is a unique self-created amalgam that transcends the obvious to go into new territory.

The Bassoon Quintet engages nicely with an inventive atmospheric and in the final "Jig" movement a sturdy insistence which has almost a Rock solidity and irresistible force of sound.

The final String Quartet No. 1 is perhaps the more ambitious of the four but all the same characteristically personal as is the music as a whole. The opening movement is nicely heavy in a block of rocking insistence yet brio in a wider way, too. The middle slow movement is introspective and ravishing in a somber kind of way.

The performers are world class. Kudos to the Sirius Quartet, the Arcadian Winds, and the bassoonists on the Bassoon Quartet. Jarvlepp is an original. Hear this one out by all means.



Tuesday, October 5, 2021

W. A. Mozart, Solo Keyboard Works, Keiko Shichijo, Vintage Pianoforte

 

Pandemic, social turmoil, isolation, there has been nothing especially easy about life of late, at least for me. As much as ever music gets me through. Today there is a good example of a musical bridge to a happier place, namely Keiko Shichijo performing W. A. Mozart Solo Keyboard Works (Bridge 9570).

What is an important part of the remarkable nature of this album is that Ms. Shichijo performs the whole of the program on an 1802 Frere et Soeur Stein d'Augsborg a Vienne, a slightly later incarnation of the Stein models Mozart first favored beginning in 1777. Unlike modern pianofortes the instrument did not have a back check to prevent the hammer from rebounding after initially striking the strings. As a result the piano requires a technique that does not favor hard-edged attacks, but rather a more gentle overall keying which the pianist after some getting used to reportedly found remarkable in the ways one might vary the string attack and the piano's unique response. If you listen with some care you start to understand how she individualized the attacks in very interesting ways.

Interestingly the piano also features a knee activated sustain mechanism.

Listening to the program one is struck how the marvelously individual tone of the piano makes logical sense to the sound of Mozart's solo piano style. What in retrospect seems a little cold and stark in hearing modern piano versions of works like his "Fantasia in D minor, K. 307" in particular, but then too the other works heard here, is on the Stein a very different experience--with a warmth and singular fullness of sound color. The music makes a different kind of sense with the magnificent sound of the piano and Keiko Shichijo's mastery over the special beauty of the combination of soundboard and key action. The various pitches come at us together with each note remaining colorfully distinct, more so than in a typical modern period rendition, as I hear it anyway.

The program includes the aforementioned Fantasia in D minor, K.397, along with the Sonatas K. 311, K. 283, and K. 310, plus the Rondo K. 511. Every piece has a kind of revelatory quality in the pianist's hands and how she realizes the pianoforte's unique sound.

Keiko Shichijo is a true poet of the ivories. This rivals some of the best Mozart solo piano performances ever, to my mind. You owe it to yourself to hear it.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Duo Diagonal, Anytime, Anka Zlateva, Adam Orvad, with Gergana Maria Orvad

 

If the album up today for discussion strikes me as being "home grown," it is not because it lacks a professional element, it is that it sounds like it is a product of coming out of a kind of musical home, that the players have worked together to form an original singularity that is far beyond the sort of slick productionism that new releases sometimes end up having (which in itself is not a bad thing, just different from the direct appeal of this album). Duo Diagonal on the contrary is earthy and disarmingly centered in a musicality all its own. That is what seems important to me in considering their album Anytime (Solist Solist Foreningen Gateway Music).

What one is perhaps first struck with is the interesting instrumentation of accordion (Adam Orvad) and harpsichord (Anka Slateva) and at times the youthful vocals of Gergana Maria Orvad. The choice of repertoire for the album is quite interesting, a mix of Baroque, Modern and some Folk-rooted numbers.

The musicianship of Orvad and Zlateva have a lot to do with why this program is fascinating and worthwhile. The unusual instrumental pairing is somewhat startling in itself, but the together confluence and individually expressive talent of the two give us much to appreciate. A valuable addition to select w0rks is the youthful vocals of Gergana--on the ornate Bulgarian folk songs and Bernstein's song cycle "I Hate Music" from 1943. Both have a remarkably refreshing quality, not quite like anything else out there really. Just the Bernstein alone is very good to hear, but there is so much more in all of this.

Then the Rameau "Pieces de Clavecin" arranged for the duo has a kind of outstandingly lyrical heft to it that one might not assume would be there unless one listened. Then you listen with a happiness, something you might not quite have expected, a pleasure of an added bonus. That applies to the Baroque gems by Buxtehude and Purcell as well.

In the Modern realm the strident movement of John Frandsen's "Sisytos" has a convincing togetherness and exploratory feel that seems just right. Louis Aguirre's "Toccata" jumps out with a manic dissonance that is in the end rather a perfect vehicle for the two. The title work "Anytime" by Hanne Orvad gallops into a Modernity that pits the duo against one another in an exciting exchange. Finally Axel Borup Jorgensen's "Fur Cembalo und Akkordeon" has depth and a dynamic movement that the Duo realizes perfectly and excitingly.

In the end Anytime works because all the pieces fit together in rewarding ways--repertoire, pacing, musicianship and aural surprise. They help us savor the old and the new in ways unusually convincing. Bravo, bravo!